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Edward O’Brien honored with OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award

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29 May 2018
Photo credit: Nate Follmer
Photo credit: Nate Follmer

Edward O’Brien, assistant professor of chemistry and Institute for CyberScience (ICS) co-hire, has been selected to receive the American Chemical Society (ACS) OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in Computational Chemistry for research summarized in a scientific research paper titled “Origins of the Mechanochemical Coupling of Peptide Bond Formation to Protein Synthesis.”

The ACS Computers in Chemistry Division selects up to four tenure-track junior faculty to receive the award and to present their work at the ACS National Meeting in fall 2018 held in Boston.

“I am happy to see that Ed O’Brien has been recognized with this award,” said Jenni Evans, professor of meteorology and director of the Penn State Institute for CyberScience. “It demonstrates the power of computational methods and big data to new advances in science. ICS is proud to provide support for the research and computational needs of researchers such as Ed, who utilize advanced computation.”

O’Brien’s research sought to identify new sources of mechanical forces acting on ribosomes, the molecular machines that make proteins, how those forces are transmitted across the ribosome and their impact on the action of this molecular machine.

Within cells, ribosomes synthesize proteins. A change to the speed at which a protein is synthesized alters how the protein behaves. One source of change in speed can be from mechanical forces, such as the behavior of the protein as it is created. This study provides a molecular-level explanation for experimental data related to mechanochemistry, which is the study of mechanical forces affecting chemical processes.

“This is the first time these questions have been answered, and it puts mechanochemistry at heart of a process that is central to life itself,” O’Brien said. “I’m grateful to have received this award in recognition of this research.”

For his work, O’Brien applied the methods of multiscale modelling on computing resources from the ICS Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (ACI) and the National Science Foundation XSEDE to interpret the information. O’Brien states that multiscale modelling, simply put, is like Google Maps.

“With Google Maps you can see the Earth, a state, a town, or your house,” O’Brien said. “This is basically how multiscale modelling works, because we are able to zoom in and out on our information and see it from different perspectives to answer a variety of questions.”

His research, which consisted of simulations lasting for several months, had unexpected results that have never been predicted before. He stated that these findings are fundamental to understanding how the speed of protein synthesis affects protein behavior and can lead to a better understanding of certain diseases.

Will Noid, associate professor of chemistry and a colleague of O’Brien, was delighted to hear that O’Brien received the OpenEye award.

“This award highlights Ed as one of the top young researchers in computational chemistry,” Noid said. “This recognition, along with the resulting enhanced visibility, will only help to further accelerate his outstanding career trajectory.”

This research was supported by funds from the National Science Foundation, the University of South Florida, and Penn State.

The Institute for CyberScience is one of the five interdisciplinary research institutes under the Office of the Vice President for Research, and is dedicated to supporting cyber-enabled research across the disciplines. ICS builds an active community of researchers using computational methods in a wide range of fields through co-hiring of tenure-track faculty, providing seed funding for ambitious computational research projects, and offering access to high-performance computing resources through its Advanced CyberInfrastructure. With the support of ICS, Penn State researchers harness the power of big data, big simulation, and big computing to solve the world’s problems.

 

[ Miranda Buckheit ]

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